For the first time in months, it’s not the lockdown that has been preoccupying my mind. Something is changing in my world which has nothing to do with the pandemic. Of course, the pandemic exacerbates it as it does with everything, but this was always going to happen. Yup, I am now facing the inevitability of my wee boy growing up.
Physically, he has already stretched past a couple of my friends and is only an inch or two behind me, having shot up and bulked up in lockdown. It seems that he is a ten-year-old trapped inside a teenager’s body. And aside from the menace of having to constantly feed him and size up his clothes, I’ve always been fine with that. It’s only now that his mental age is starting to catch up that I find it challenging.
This is one of the things we modern parents don’t like to talk about too much. The disconnect between wanting them to grow up and do amazing things, travel, experience as much as they can and become the independent adult you are shaping them to be. On the other side, the hurt when they’d rather not spend time with you is palpable, and something I didn’t expect to feel with my modern, cool mum hat on.
Modern, cool mum has a certain level of bullshit about it. I mean, I am a kind of modern, cool mum, in the sense that I don’t want to stifle, he gets a fair amount of freedom and we laugh a lot together. With that, he gets rules about honesty, respect for others (especially girls), social and ethical guidelines for life and generally telt not to be a dick. It matters to me that I bring up a son who is a feminist and cares about social justice, but I don’t shove it in his face, lest he go the opposite way and turn into some right wing horror.
The problem is that this doesn’t protect you from the feelings that over-protective mum has. The kind that some mothers use against their children, to make them feel bad for wanting to leave. My mother was like that. On the one hand, with four children she must have been relieved to have less work to do as we got older. On the other, I think she found it hard to understand the natural teenage desire to escape. Sometimes she would guilt trip us as punishment, and she could use emotional blackmail like a weapon.
What I understand now, is that behaviour comes as a response to the hurt. It’s not that my mother was nasty, just that she didn’t always manage those feelings well. I’m sure one of these days I will get used to how horrible it feels when I come up with a fun suggestion for spending a free afternoon and he gives me a teenage-style shrug of boredom, because he really doesn’t want to do it. But let me tell you now, if you haven’t got to that stage yet, it fucking hurts.
Maybe not for some. I am sure there are mothers that handle this adjustment naturally. It’s possible I don’t have the balance right, but we were always close: in his early years, I was the main carer and now that he splits between two households, it’s just the two of us. We are used to spending time together, especially on holidays. Over the last couple of years, we’ve been in places where it’s been safe for him to test his independence more e.g. a campsite or a small island and that’s been great. Time together, but time on our own or with peers. To me this is a perfect and natural balance.
Except that the sands are always shifting. As a parent, it seems you are just steady at one stage when the next one comes along, but you are still in control. There comes a time when that control shifts and we need to be ready to bend a bit; if we don’t, then we lose them. What seems like a good balance for the parent may not feel the same for a child.
During the lockdown, on the four days we live together, we spent more time in the same house, but more time apart. At the height of staying in, our only contacts with our respective friends were via our screens. We became habituated to that form of communication and connection. Our only real conversations took place when out for our daily walk or at mealtimes. Perhaps if I hadn’t been working so much we could have spent more time together, but now I’m back to working normal hours with more free time, he still doesn’t want to hang out as much as he used to.
The hurtful thing is rarely anything he says, but the tone of his voice and the looks. When he is sharp and impatient or annoyed with me, I find myself harping back to those age olds: ‘don’t you take that tone with me’ and pointing with a ‘you do not speak to your mother like that!’. Ah those classics…
Knowing that I sound like my mother (and she probably sounded like hers) is very annoying. That flash of insight is usually enough for me to stop without going further down the road of huff, because it’s not constructive. You can’t guilt people into spending time with you. There is an ex-youth worker inside me that knows what to do in these situations, it’s just about taking a deep breath and applying it. Not that there’s anything wrong with letting your kids know when they’re being arseholes. Far from it. And the same applies for us. Apologies work on both sides I find.
Perhaps it’s just the usual parent guilt kicking in. There is always something to feel bad about when you’re a parent: in my case it’s letting him become addicted to his PS4 during lockdown and get unhealthy, like I’ve been doing too. This is not long-term damage for either of us, we just need to move ourselves about more and get healthy together. I wrote about this some time ago, and about the need to get fit to look after him. Now it’s about being fit and well as he grows older.
It’s a transition thing. He is floating between childhood and adolescence in a strange limbo. There are times when I hear him joking with his friends while gaming, slagging each other off in the insulting way that teenage boys do, like mini adults. Then when out on a walk the other day, he asked if I knew what happened when an anaconda swallowed you, giving me all the gory details and for a moment he was just a boy again. It will be this way for a while, so we need to enjoy these moments while we can.
Because we still have them…watching daft TV shows, out on walks, on wild swims – which he has joined me on this summer – and little adventures when we can. As the lockdown eases, it makes everything less claustrophobic and more relaxed. But things will keep changing and I need to get used to that. He will always need his mother but for a time he will need me in a different way.
There will be worse to come before it gets better: spots, mood swings, horrendous aftershave type smells…the wank sock. Dramas with girls – because of course, modern, cool mum has already said it’s fine whether you like boys or girls and been told its girls – though he’s not ready for that yet. The future is bright, the future is teenage.
My beautiful boy won’t be a boy much longer. The world may be suspended for a while, but life goes on.
Until next time,